High Expat Teacher Turnover In Chinese Schools

I’ve been approached many times:

“We have American teachers at our schools in China.  But they depart quickly.  How would we get them to stay longer?”

When I’ve spoken with American teachers at those schools, I find they are unhappy with 3 things. 

1. Community.  The Americans teachers hang out with other Americans.  This is certainly “partly their fault.”  But the result is they don’t feel close, emotional connections to fellow Chinese teachers.

2. Cause.  Americans often like to cheer for an underdog. Many of their schools lack poor students on scholarship who they can mentor.  Moreover, they aren’t taught specific ways to identify/help introverted kids who may face great challenges at home.  Only helping rich kids doesn’t lead teachers to believe their school is doing good in the world.

3. Day-to-day role.  Teachers want to play to their individual strengths.  At Croft School in Providence, Scott asks each teacher what those are.  He makes sure that each individual is able to build some of that into her daily teaching experience.  An obstacle to individuality is strict school-wide curriculum, common in Chinese schools.

These three job satisfaction factors are not unique to schools.

From Harvard Business Review, the heads of Facebook’s HR team write:

We survey our workforce twice a year, asking what employees value most. After examining hundreds of thousands of answers over and over again, we identified three big buckets of motivators: career, community, and cause.

Career is about work: having a job that provides autonomy, allows you to use your strengths, and promotes your learning and development. It’s at the heart of intrinsic motivation.

Community is about people: feeling respected, cared about, and recognized by others. It drives our sense of connection and belongingness.

Cause is about purpose: feeling that you make a meaningful impact, identifying with the organization’s mission, and believing that it does some good in the world. It’s a source of pride.

These three buckets make up what’s called the psychological contract — the unwritten expectations and obligations between employees and employers. When that contract is fulfilled, people bring their whole selves to work. But when it’s breached, people become less satisfied and committed. They contribute less. They perform worse.

An organizational challenge is that the HR director cannot affect these 3 critical components which drive teacher retention.  Only the school’s leader can.


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